ClassSearch: A Classroom Environment for Teaching Web Search Skills

We explore the use of social learning — improving knowledge skills by observing peer behavior — in the domain of Web search skill acquisition, focusing specifically on co-located classroom scenarios. Through a series of interviews, pilot studies, and classroom deployments, we conclude that a peripheral display of Web search activity within a classroom facilitates both social learning and teacher-led discourse. We present the ClassSearch system for shared awareness of Web search activity, which embodies principles gleaned from our iterative design process, and show results from a ClassSearch deployment in twelve middle-school classroom sessions. Finally, we highlight design suggestions and opportunities for future work while taxonomizing the space of co-located search pedagogies.


Student View: Internet Explorer and Toolbar

The student’s main view is Internet Explorer, instrumented with a plugin that monitors URLs and looks for searches. Searches are aggregated across tabs and windows, and displayed in a toolbar that attaches to the browser (the toolbar is at the bottom of the screen in this screenshot). The toolbar shows a history of the student’s queries, which both allows the student to assess progress and allows a teacher to quickly glance over students’ shoulders to assess their status as he/she walks around the classroom.

Student Toolbar: Interactions

Clicking a term in the student client highlights that term in the browser, helping students connect their search queries to the pages they visit. The important point here is that our client is a logical place to add features targeted specifically at search education. The toolbar window is also used for logging in and out of the teacher’s server, and might be used for classroom tasks in the future: e.g., answering questions, rating pages, etc.

Teacher’s Main View

The teacher’s computer offers several views which are intended to be shown on a projected display, available to the entire class. Student names are only associated with content by mouseover, or can be disabled entirely. The components of this view are a list of students logged in to the server (left), a “query cloud” showing queries executed by the class (top center), a “site cloud” showing sites visited by the class (top right), and a Web browser. Clicking any site or query opens the corresponding page in the browser, suitable for discussions like “was this a good query?” or “did this site contain the answer we’re looking for?”

Teacher’s Station: Class Summary View

This view shows a graphical summary of each student’s search history. This allows the teacher to quickly assess students’ progress and to see which students might be stuck, or which students might be “spinning” trying to find good queries. Here purple boxes represent queries, and green boxes represent results clicked and subsequent pages visited.

Teacher’s Station: Individual Student View

A teacher can “zoom in” on an individual student to see all pages visited and queries executed by this student during the search task.

Teacher’s Station: Display Options

Depending on the kind of discussion and support the teacher wishes to provide, he or she can customize the display. The teacher can also save and load the entire classroom state, for re-starting in a subsequent class session, for offline review, etc.



Portrait of Neema Moraveji

Neema Moraveji


Portrait of Mary Czerwinski

Mary Czerwinski

Partner Researcher and Research Manager

Portrait of Nathalie Henry Riche

Nathalie Henry Riche

Principal Researcher